19 Dec 2014

Who cares after young people leave care?

For many of us, deciding where we go for Christmas is simply a toss up between competing sets of relatives. True, it may cause a little conflict if the prospect of two days snowed in with a grumpy sister in law (not mine obviously, she’s lovely) feels more than you can stand, but at least it’s somewhere to go, people to be with.

But for some of the many thousands of young people who’ve grown up in care, there is no such option. Estranged from their family and having outgrown their status as children “looked after” by the state, they may find themselves completely alone at Christmas.

Twenty six year old Shalyce Lawrence grew up in care and remembers one particular Christmas spent alone in her new flat. No decorations, a ready meal for lunch – and worst of all perhaps – no one to talk to.  When one of her closest friends committed suicide just before Christmas, Shalyce resolved to try to ensure no care leaver should spend the day alone.

She founded the Topé Project – named after her friend – which for the past three years has hosted Christmas day for care leavers who  have nowhere else to go. It started with five people around her grandmother’s table and this year will see more than 100 young people share lunch, be given presents and entertained.

Although Shalyce does it for other care leavers, it’s clear the event has had a profound effect on her too. “This is what Christmas is about. We literally sat down together and we ate together and a lot of time people don’t have that. For me it was the best feeling in the world because I’d had a Christmas [alone} where I’d probably had a ready meal to then having a Christmas where I was sitting with 100 people and eating and talking. It was just amazing.”

But this is about more than providing Christmas lunch. Jerome Harvey Agyei is a friend of Shalyce’s and now helps with the project. He was profoundly affected by the suicide of their friend and says mental health issues for those brought up in care receive too little attention.

He was put into care when he was just four. Moved from place to place, and separated from his nine siblings, he says it’s hard to make sense of yourself, your life. For him, the Topé Project is a chance to create good memories for fragile young people who may often feel it’s hard to keep going.

“We want to give them something to look forward to. When you look forward to something you’re not going to do something crazy to hinder that.”

Neither Jerome nor Shalyce thinks Christmas day is enough to change someone’s life but what they hope it will do is “start the conversation” about what more needs to be done for the children and young people who leave care and too often, go out into the  world with little or no support.

As Shalyce put it: “They come from a system where they are supposed to be looked after and it feels like they leave the system and they just get left and thrown away pretty much and no one really actually thinks about them.”

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4 reader comments

  1. Deb Millar says:

    Thank goodness for initiatives like this. Services for young people have been strangled under the current government so it is no surprise that care leavers are given minimal support. Unfortunately the money saved by cutting back services just isn’t cost effective as lack of provision leads to escalating problems further down the line. I think the only party taking these issues seriously is the Green Party of England and Wales. Social justice is at the heart of it’s policies and is the only choice for those with any sort of social conscience.

  2. Davidakinsanya says:

    Thank you for talking about care leavers and Tope Project

  3. Nic Le Becheur says:

    The only way to avoid more of this and another Dickensian Christmas in 2015 is to vote Green in May. All the other UK non-nationalist parties are neoliberals who will drag us further back into the 19thC with their Fagin economics.

  4. John Hill says:

    I am in my 70s, and was born and brought up in a poor area.
    I never thought of myself as “poor” or “disadvantaged”, although we did not have much, and my dad worked shifts. my brother was in the Army and my mum died when I was about 10, but we just got on with life,
    There were people affected by the war, and a lady in our street used to give stuff to her neighbour who had lost her husband in the war.
    No Social Services with clipboards and condescending down your nose attitudes,
    WE looked after folk in our area, did not categorise them, and did not think anyone owed us a living.
    Of course that was around the time that Labour won the election in 1945.
    Civil Servants, Do Gooders and Bureaucrats have ensured GB has gone downhill since then.
    State Shall Provide was not accepted in those days, and I remember being taken to see people just to have a chat and cuppa as we kept lonely folks company.
    Today NHS and Social Services do that,
    But I do not think the System today is a patch on what I remember as that long ago child!

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